Food Availabilty Disparity
by Lauren Ornelas, F.E.P. Executive Director
Food Empowerment Project
Santa Clara County residents in lower-income communities and communities of color lack easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
San José, California, August 25, 2010—The Food Empowerment Project (F.E.P.), a Santa Clara County-based nonprofit, has released its food availability study for the area, exploring how accessible healthy foods are to consumers in the county’s communities of color and lower-income communities compared to higher-income communities. “Shining a Light on the Valley of Heart’s Delight” reveals that higher-income areas have more than twice as many large supermarkets per capita as lower-income areas. In contrast, the report shows that lower-income communities have nearly twice as many liquor stores and 50 percent more markets that sell an abundance of meat products; neither of these types of stores offers a variety of healthy food options, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.
“With all of the wealth in Silicon Valley, it is unacceptable that certain communities do not have access to fruits, vegetables, and other healthy food alternatives,” says F.E.P’s Executive Director lauren Ornelas. “Such a food injustice can lead to a host of health problems, including type-2 diabetes and obesity. That this can happen in our own backyard is inexcusable. It’s really a form of environmental racism.”
F.E.P. found that low-income households have virtually no access to organic produce in their communities. Moreover, F.E.P. discovered that plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products (such as tofu, meat-free burgers, and soymilk) are extremely limited in these communities, where consumers do not have the same access to large supermarkets as do consumers in higher-income communities. “This is especially alarming when you consider that many people of color are lactose intolerant, so the lack of dairy alternatives has serious health implications,” says Ornelas. “In addition, the more that people learn about how farmed animals are treated, the more they want to avoid animal-based products in their diets.”
F.E.P. conducted the survey in March 2009. A dozen volunteers visited Santa Clara County retail businesses, such as supermarkets and convenience stores, in both higher-income and lower-income neighborhoods to survey the residents’ access to healthy foods. F.E.P.’s criteria for healthy foods consisted of fresh, canned, and frozen fruits and vegetables, as well as alternatives to meat and dairy products.
“What we found is an extreme inequity when it comes to nutritious foods,” says Ornelas. “Because communities of color and lower-income communities have about half the number of large supermarkets as their higher-income counterparts, for example, they have much less access to fruits and vegetables. As a result, consumers shopping for food in lower-income neighborhoods rely more on liquor stores and other retail businesses that don’t necessarily offer healthy options.”
F.E.P. believes that the problem can be fixed by policymakers and communities combining their efforts, and the group’s report covers a variety of recommendations, such as including prices on produce and clarifying the federal North American Industry Classification System, which currently counts small retail outlets as grocery stores, even if they sell mostly alcohol and junk food. “Our goal is to work with the communities suffering the biggest food inequities,” says Ornelas. “We know that a more just food system in the U.S. is possible if everyone works together.”
About the Food Empowerment Project
Founded in 2006, the Food Empowerment Project seeks to create a more just and sustainable world by recognizing the power of one’s food choices. We encourage healthy food choices that reflect a more compassionate society by spotlighting the abuse of animals on farms, the depletion of natural resources, unfair working conditions for produce workers, and the unavailability of healthy foods in low-income areas. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, F.E.P. is based in San José, Calif., and operated entirely by volunteers.